Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2014 Philadelphia Film Festival Recap Part 2

Yesterday kicked off my first of a two-part series recapping each and every film I managed to catch at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival (click here for Part 1). Here's a look at the final eight titles that I ended up viewing.

Imperial Dreams

2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

Malik Vitthal's Imperial Dreams stood out as one of the most powerful dramas of the festival. Leading actor John Boyega gives a towering performance as Bambi, a young aspiring writer recently released from prison who's set on taking care of him son and making it out of the dangerous projects in Watts, Los Angeles. Imperial Dreams does a remarkable job of capturing the turmoil that people endure while living in poverty and trying to branch out from a criminal lifestyle. 

Teacher of the Year

2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

Matt Letscher and Keegan-Michael Key star in the laugh-filled mockumentary, Teacher of the Year. After beloved teacher Mitch Carter (Letscher) wins the California Teacher of the Year award, he's immediately confronted with a lucrative offer that could pry him away from his one true passion. The film chronicles Carter and the rest of his wacky, off-beat faculty members who offer an interesting and hilarious perspective on the current state of public education.

Wild Canaries

2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

As both the director and leading actor, Lawrence Michael Levine's caper comedy, Wild Canaries, proved to be a fun little affair. Despite a periodically irritating lead role from Sophia Takal, the film delivers laughs and intrigue. I previously enjoyed Levine's work in an old Philadelphia Film Festival selection, Detonator, and the multi-talented performer shows he can handle comedy with ease. After their elderly neighbor ends up dying mysteriously, Barri (Takal) and Noah (Levine) begin to suspect foul play and put their inexperienced detective skills to work.

The Guest

2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

In the vein of absurd and off-the-wall 80s B-movies, the team behind the horror sensation You're Next returns with The Guest. If you can look past its plot holes and head-scratching story, the film is actually quite a fun thrill ride. Dan Stevens stars as David, a former soldier who ends up on the doorstep of one his fallen friend's family. Still grieving from their son's passing, the family welcomes David into their home as the mysterious stranger's back-story slowly begins to unfold.

The Last 5 Years

2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

Anna Kendrick continues to show off her pipes in the upcoming off-broadway musical adaptation from Richard LaGravenese, The Last 5 Years. The film examines all of the details surrounding the deteriorated relationship between a blossoming writer named Jamie (played by Jeremy Jordan) and his struggling actress wife, Catchy (Kendrick), in a unique fashion. Almost told entirely through song, this non-chronological story features Cathy's perspective from the end of the relationship towards the beginning, and Jamie's interpretation from the start of their romance to the conclusion, where the interweaving meets in the middle to a bitter revelation.

It Follows

2 stars out of 4 - C+

As a huge fan of scary movies (especially this time of year), I was really looking forward to the originaly premised horror tale, It Follows. The film follows a 19 year old young woman named Jay (played by Maika Monroe) who engages in an innocent sexual encounter that delivers fatal consequences. After the seemingly romantic incident, Jay awakens tied up by her captor and he reveals the shocking details that he's passed a haunting presence onto her. This presence is a slow-walking apparition that will never stop following her until she sleeps with someone else and passes it on to them. The idea is completely terrifying and translates well to the big screen, but I just wish It Follows would have taken the story to a more expansive level.

Glass Chin

1 and a half stars out of 4 - C-

Noah Buschel's non-traditional boxing tale, Glass Chin, stars Corey Stoll as a former rising boxing star named Bud Gordon whose life has been whittled done to the bare minimum. Desperate for a way back into the New York limelight, Bud takes a job with a ruthless schemer (played by Billy Crudup) who quickly turns the tables on the former boxer. Unraveling at a crawling pace and insufficiently supported by a paper-thin story, Glass Chin can't even be saved by eerily effective supporting turns from Yul Vazquez and Billy Crudup.

Big Significant Things

1 star out of 4 - D

Although the praises had been high for the self-discovery comedy, Big Significant Things, albeit from a limited number of sources, I found Bryan Reisberg's debut feature to be a hollow story with only sporadic laughs. I have no criticisms of Harry Lloyd's performance as Craig, a man who lies to his girlfriend and takes a solo road trip down south while she's on the west coast scouting out homes for their upcoming cross-country move. However, Lloyd isn't given much substance to work with and despite his grandest efforts, Big Significant Things trudges along towards a pointless conclusion to a boring story.

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